A Yale molecular biologist in collaboration with a colleague in Korea has identified a new type of Ras protein, a class of genes known to be involved in nearly a third of all cancers. Because the new protein is different from the other known Ras proteins, the finding opens up a new area of study.

Sankar Ghosh, Ph.D., associate professor of immunobiology and an associate investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and his colleague found the new protein, kB-Ras, during studies of NFkB, a factor involved in relaying genetic information. kB-Ras regulates the action of NFkB. “What was surprising,” said Ghosh, “was that other Ras proteins have characteristic mutations that cause cancer, but kB-Ras has the mutation in its natural form.” Unlike the others, however, kB-Ras lacks essential components for traveling to the cell membrane, which would be necessary for it to cause cancer. The finding was reported in Science in February.

The scientists are now studying various aspects of the gene and making an animal model. “We want to find out if there are mutated states in which it could become an oncogene,” Ghosh said.